This is such a time of transition and change. It's a lot at once.
I am still coping with the loss of my birth mother. I can get through a work day, a date with a friend, errands, a movie on the couch with my husband. But then some tiny little thing will catch me off guard and I am sobbing, falling apart, and struggling to breathe. How am I supposed to just go on with everything? Doesn't the world realize what's missing?
This past weekend we visited as planned. It was obviously a very different visit than it was meant to be. It was lovely all the same, but so, so sad. I kept remembering that we were supposed to be there with her, we were supposed to be celebrating and planning. Still, it was good to be surrounded by people who knew her and loved her too. It was good to hear stories both new and old, to get to know the rest of my family better, to be around people with whom it was safe to laugh and to cry. But without her, that town is not the same. Without her, the house is not the same. Without her, dinners are not the same. Without her, nothing is the same.
I can't tell you how many times I've thought back to the days before, the week before. Less than two weeks before, we were together in New York. A week before, I was at Disney introducing my kid to Mickey and Minnie. And I was texting her pictures of Thora and she was texting back saying, "Sounds like you are having such fun, wish I were there!" and I was replying saying "Come join us!" and she was replying "So tempting! Next time for sure." And me thinking, maybe next time we do this she will be with us. Now I can't wait to get home to show her all the pictures! And just days before was Mothers' Day. We'd sent her a card and a small gift, and she replied with a beautiful email thanking me for taking the time to remember her while we were pregnant and traveling and doing a million other things, and telling me how much she loved me and what a wonderful mother I was. I saved it with the others. And it ended up being the last email I ever got from her.
If I had known that this was going to happen, I would have dropped everything and flown to her in an instant. How could I have been so far away having so much fun when her clock was ticking like that?
And I think of all the plans. We had made so many plans! From shopping for the new baby to meeting in Ft. Lauderdale next winter to visiting Iceland together, a place we both loved, and so much more. It crushes me that none of this will happen the way it was supposed to. There were so many things I wanted to do with her and share with her. My life got so much more exciting thinking she would be experiencing so much with me and my husband and children.
I know, I know. We are all born, we all die. And I know I am lucky that we reached such a wonderful place before this happened. But just as I know this is a part of life everyone has to go through in some way, I hate it. I hate it so much. In my head I am kicking and screaming and fighting against this. Driving around Boston, her city, a city with many many skeletons I have stuffed in my proverbial closet, a city that I was only learning to love again, I saw her everywhere. Last time we were in Harvard Square, she was there with us. The Elephant Walk, my favorite restaurant: that's where we met. The mall! We went shopping for one of her foster babies there together. The supermarket, the nail salon, the local bookstore. This is where she used to go, I found myself thinking over and over. She was everywhere I went and yet every time the back door opened and the person who walked in the house wasn't her, I had to realize all over again that she was also nowhere. She is not coming back. But I just can't seem to let go. How can this really be happening?
That is the hardest part. As it starts to sink in, the hurt is even worse. The shock is wearing off and now we all have to pick up the pieces and figure out how to keep going. How does one do that? It still doesn't seem fair.
Yet as sad as I am, there is still so much to love about my life and to be grateful for. I am so thankful for my husband. He is my best friend and my partner. He has been there for me throughout all of this, being a shoulder to cry on, a babysitter, a companion on the many car rides, an ear and a sounding board. He understands me and has helped me make sense of all I am feeling. I am thankful for Thora, who is the love and light of my life and still nothing but smiles and kisses. She is blissfully unaware of this devastating loss. After all, I have been with her more than usual and she also has been constantly surrounded by other people who are grateful for a smiley little girl's presence: an aunt and an uncle, a grandpa, an adorable cousin and playmate, and lots of extended family and new friends. I am so thankful for our other daughter on the way. We are 23 weeks in, more than halfway. I am getting bigger every day. Knowing this baby is a girl made my heart warm as these days I am very focused on mothers and daughters. This girl is with me all of the time, kicking and squirming and growing. She will be named in part for my mother, making the memory of this incredible woman live on in a new life that has not even gotten started.
And I am so full of love for my mother's family, who is also my family. They have embraced me and are sharing so much with me. It is much easier knowing I do not have to go through this alone. This is a treasure.
Just as I know that life and relationships are cyclical, I know that part of parenting is embracing the new phases your child goes through. And even when I am saddest, it's such fun to watch Thora learn new things.
For example: She shrieks and squeals with excitement now. It's infectious. When she screams "Bus! Bus!" it is so hard not to get excited about the twenty-millionth schoolbus that passes. She tears after dogs on the street so happily that I too look for dogs when I am out and about. She has figured out how to go down steps one at a time. I still hold my breath to make sure she will sit and scoot, but she does it now without being prompted.
All throughout this pregnancy so far, people have been asking us if we've told Thora about the new baby and if she's excited to be a big sister. And all this time I've been like, really? She's just a baby herself. How can she possibly understand the concept of a new baby? Well, she surprised us all.
Her favorite subject these days is body parts. You ask her, "Thora, where's your nose? Where are your eyes?" and she will point at them dutifully. You ask her where her tongue is and she'll stick it out at you gleefully. Where are your ears? Where's your head? Where are your toes? Your teeth? She knows them all. Nowadays when you ask her where her belly is, she yanks her shirt up and sticks her naked self all the way out, from sternum to hips. She slaps her belly the way her daddy slaps his belly. And she will bring you the stethoscope to listen to her belly over and over. This is a wonderful distraction when she doesn't want her diaper changed or when she doesn't want to be stuffed in the stroller. A simple "Where's your nose, Bea?" will quiet her down and stop her fretting as she focuses on remembering what's where.
She will happily stick a finger in your eye or up your nose if you ask her to find your eyes or nose. She sometimes has a hard time remembering which nose is hers and which is Mama's so I have had a few unexpected pokes and jabs in the face. But the belly, that she gets. After a week or so of yanking up my shirt to slap my belly the way she slaps her own, we started saying "Be careful, there's a baby in Mama's belly." That meant nothing to her until this past weekend, when she suddenly looked solemnly at my belly and patted it instead of slapping it. I told her, "Your baby sister is in there!" And in front of a room full of people, she leaned in to give her sister a kiss. This was such a sweet moment that it brought tears to my eyes.
Now she regularly asks to kiss the belly, even if it's by simply walking over to me and trying to pull down my giant maternity pants, calling behhh, behhh. Is she saying baby or belly or both? I wonder what she really grasps but it sure does seem like she gets something. She seems to be taking her role of big sister very seriously already. And that makes me so happy.
On the flip side, what's really hard for me is saying goodbye to the old phases Thora leaves behind. I even get weepy when she outgrows a cute outfit I've liked seeing her in. And lately this kid, who has gone from a regular routine at home her entire life to being bounced around in the past month sleeping next to me in one hotel room or guest room or another or playing in a different house or in different surroundings, has adjusted beautifully. She seemed to have taken it in stride that each day on the road would bring a different schedule with different playmates and different playthings in a different place. She didn't object to the long rides in different rental cars, different foods, different faces and places. And instead of clinging to me during all of these changes, she held my hand. Now she walks stubbornly, pulling on the index finger of whomever is nearest, bringing us to whatever she wants to show us: the flowers she wants to smell, the wooden horse she likes to say hello to, the chimes hanging by the back door. She will nod vigorously and say "Da!" (as though she were Russian?) to indicate she wants something and shake her head emphatically, saying "Nooo, nooo" over and over when she definitely doesn't. She has offered kisses to her aunt and grandpa when before even her daddy had to beg to get one. It's like she knows who needs them most. She is resilient, communicative and adaptive and is becoming such a brave little person that I am in truly awe. Darwin would be proud.
And then this weekend she weaned herself, out of nowhere. Truthfully, pregnancy has made my nipples sore and sensitive and nursing hasn't been the most pleasant experience. I was starting to wince every time she latched on. But nursing my daughter was a much sweeter experience overall than I ever imagined it would be and I was determined to stick it out because she too seemed to enjoy it so much. I wasn't planning to wean her anytime soon, even if it meant tandem nursing after Newbee was born. So when she just started to fall asleep with her daddy or with me rubbing her back or holding her tight, I was a little surprised. It took a few days until I realized, this kid hasn't nursed at all! Then I surprised myself by bursting into tears. She hasn't nursed in days! She may never nurse again! She doesn't need me like that anymore. What if I still need her like that?
Another connection I treasured, gone. A transition that feels like another loss. My baby isn't a baby anymore.
It's a lot to get used to at once.